Clinician uses music to help Mason City clients

MASON CITY – Jim Whitehurst fights his own demons every day. And then, he picks up his bass guitar.

“Music is a way for me to deal with stressful situations” that does not have to mix with drugs and alcohol to inspire.

“It makes me mindful,” he told the Globe Gazette.

Whitehurst, a clinician at Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services, is sharing that love with residents at the Mason City center – and, as they say in the business, he apparently has a hit on his hands.

Rock ‘n’ roll therapy has been rocking one of the meeting rooms at the center every Sunday for the past two months.

Almost 40 clients turn out to hear clients, joined by Whitehurst, and sometimes community musicians as they revive rock ‘n’ roll standards on drums and guitars. Local drummer Doug Johnson adds his talents, too. On the drum set is the title “Rx Rock.”

“It stands for ‘Prescription Rock,’ ” Whitehurst said with a chuckle.

Clients work on songs throughout the week and then perform on Sunday.

The number of clients attending the sessions continues to grow, Whitehurst said.

It’s easy to see why, said clinical assistant Cathy Rand.

“And, we have a blast,” she said.

“They are loving it,” Whitehurst agreed.

Prairie Ridge Director Jay Hansen said he was delighted with the therapy.

“Any innovation that keeps our clients engaged is good,” he said.

He has visited some of the sessions and agreed that client musicians and audiences alike are benefitting.

“And with some of our clients being musicians, it really honors their preferences,” he said. “I think it works well.”

Sometimes, the sessions feature guest speakers, such as a recent visit by Justin Anderson.

Anderson, who has fought brain cancer, recently scaled a portion of Mount Everest and loves music. His connection to clients worked well on two fronts – not just music but in his fight against what seemed like insurmountable odds.

“I think some of our clients realized that he has had his fight, too,” that fighting cancer is not unlike fighting an addiction, Whitehurst said.

“They realize that, like Justin, you can come out on the other side” of that fight with a triumph.

Rand agreed.

“We talk about how music affects them, how it makes them feel – and knowing that it’s one of those environments they can enjoy without drugs and alcohol,” Rand said.

“Most of us here use a substance to magnify pleasure or to mask pain,” said one resident, whose identity was kept confidential.

“Very few things can offer that sort of transcendence out of your circumstances … rock ‘n’ roll is one of them and one of the best. It’s always there – rhythm, spirit, life.”

Whitehurst knows about music and addiction. He has been without methamphetamines and alcohol for 18 years. Before then, he watched his addictions destroy relationships and things he loved.

He learned through his own fight that there are ways to prevail over addiction. Whitehurst, who worked in factories for years, earned his GED and then became a clinical assistant at Prairie Ridge.

He then earned his bachelor’s degree and now is finishing his master’s degree.

“Once I started working here, I knew this is where I wanted to be,” he said.

Whitehurst hopes the program continues to grow and wants to enlist more help from musicians and deejays from the community to attend the Sunday events. He has already gotten a lot of help from Rieman Music and Johnson Signs, which painted the drum set.

He believes only good things will come of the therapy.

“I tell clients, ‘Which is bigger, your car’s rear-view mirror or the windshield? Don’t keep looking backward.’

“I tell them, ‘Always go forward.’ This is one way of doing that.”

Information from: Globe Gazette,

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